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World Heritage: Canada

Gwaii Haanas

British Columbia


Name of country: CANADA

List drawn up by:
Parks Canada Agency
25 Eddy Street
Gatineau (Quebec) K1A 0M5

Date: March 2004






The Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site covers about 15 percent of the Queen Charlotte Islands, an archipelago 80 km off the northwest coast of mainland British Columbia that separates Hecate Strait from the Pacific Ocean. The size of the terrestrial area, which consists of 138 islands, is 1 495 km2, with a surrounding marine conservation area (proposed) of 3 400 km2 . The park reserve includes SGaang Gwaii World Heritage Site, a 3 km2 island inscribed in 1981 under cultural criterion (iii). Two other remarkable former Haida villages, Tanu and Skedans, are located within the park reserve. As well, more than 600 archaeological features in the park reserve give evidence of Haida occupation and activities in the region. Traditional narratives, songs, places names and language relate the park reserve area intimately to Haida history and way of life. The rich and living culture of the Haida people permeates the area. The natural resources of the area, with their abundance of essential ingredients for sustenance and growth, are an integral part of Haida traditional culture, and life with the land and sea. Natural features of Gwaii Haanas range from the highly dissected San Christoval Mountains, which form the backbone of the area, to fiords, 40 freshwater lakes, old-growth temperate rainforests and a rich diversity and abundance of wildlife. The proposed marine conservation area lies along one section of the Queen Charlotte tectonic plate, and includes highly diverse living intertidal and subtidal marine communities. It is also strategically located along the Pacific flyway, hosting huge seabird breeding colonies as well as being an important migrant stopover. Marine mammals are also abundant, including sea lions, porpoises, killer whales and migrating grey whales.


Criteria met:

(iii) The homeland of the Haida is represented by the whole Gwaii Haanas area -- not just the island of SGaang Gwaii with its house vestiges and carved mortuary and memorial poles. This homeland is documented in oral tradition and archaeological resources and it is rich in associated cultural values;

(v) It is an outstanding example of land and sea use which is representative of a culture and of human interaction with the environment;

(vi) It is evocative of the Haida cosmological relationship with this place;

(vii) It possesses exceptional natural scenic beauty and superlative natural phenomena focused on the mountains-to-the-sea landscape, with old-growth forested islands, coastal zone and undersea life;

(ix) A superb display of ecological processes occurring in the old-growth temperate rainforests and the role of the islands in wildlife evolution can be observed;

(x) The diversity of species and the presence of endemics are exceptional.

Assurances of authenticity and/or integrity:

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site is co-managed by Parks Canada and Haida representatives of the Council of the Haida Nation. A park management plan was approved in 2003.

Comparison with other similar properties:

In terms of cultural values, the Haida culture is unique in the world. “The art of the Haida people, especially as represented in heraldic totem and mortuary poles, is recognized by anthropologists everywhere as one of the finest examples of primitive art in the world” (nomination document for SGang Gwaii). In terms of natural values, there is one natural World Heritage Site found in the Sitkan Biogeographical Province: the “St. Elias complex” (the Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek World Heritage Site), some 800 km to the north on the Alaska/British Columbia/Yukon boundary. Similar coastal Pacific natural features are found with the “St. Elias complex” and with other Pacific Northwest coastal islands, as well as in the Olympic National Park World Heritage Site located in the United States. As an archipelago, however, Gwaii Haanas is distinctive, and is one of few sites that served as a Pleistocene refuge.

The variety of life in its two contrasting tidal zones (Pacific Ocean and Inside Passage) is higher than elsewhere. The strong overlay and relationship of the living Haida culture and the natural environment is also not found elsewhere in the Biogeographical Province.